Mango : The King of Fruits

Hiuen Tsang, after being in India is going back. Time AD 627-643, on the fabled Silk Route. Apart from his knowledge of Buddhism, his rucksack contains an extraordinary fruit called Mango.

The name in hindi AAM is derived from Sanskrit word AMRA which seems to be the loan from Dravidian and is related to Tamil words for Mango like “mamaram”. Portuguese were responsible for transferring the name to the West. It is growing in India since 4000 years at least.

Moguls were great connoisseurs of the fruit. Akbar got 100000 mango trees in Lakhi Bagh near Darbhanga Bihar. Others who relished the fruit were Shahjahan and Noor Jehan, Aurangzeb, Sher Shah Suri. Raghunath Peshwa got large numbers all over Maharashtra.

Main Constituents:

Citric acid and related compounds are responsible for sour taste. Several terpenes have been found in unripe fruit..

Ripe mango contains volatile compounds like alpha terpineol, ocimene, limonene, 3-carene etc. Yellow colour is due to beta Carotene.

Nutrients

Mangoes are rich in potassium, about 8% carbohydrate with 1.6 % dietary fibre. Very rich in vitamin A , C, B-6, calcium, iron, and magnesium.

Some famous Indian Varieties:

1: Alphonso or Hapoos
King among the mangoes. Named after Portugal admiral D Afonso de Albuquerque. Deogad in Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra has got the GI tag of genuineness.

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2: Dasehri
It is birth place is Malihabad in Lucknow. Soft, succulent and mild.

3: Banarasi Langda
It was born in an orchard belonging to a Langda (lame) fellow and thus got this name.

4: Himsagar
Fibre less, creamy and full of pulp. Pride of Murshidabad in West Bengal.

5: Fazli
Quite big in size, famous in Malda of West Bengal. Late maturing.

6: Chaunsa:
From Bihar. Full of Flavour. It is pressed into mouth and juice is sucked.

7: Gulab Khaas
Native of Jharkhand. It is graceful mango

8: Kesar

Aromatic fruit of Junagadh Gujarat. Giving a tough fight to Hapoos. Plantations are on foothills of mount Girnar.

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9: Bedmi: Taste depends upon the plucking time.

10. Totapuri: it is abundant in southern states of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka.

11: Sindoori: it gets its name from the vermillion colour of the skin.

12: Banganapalli/ Bagan Phali/ Safeda
From Andhra’s small town Banganapalli. Sweet, yellow and fibre less.

13: Himam Pasand/ Humayun Pasand
A cross made from Banganapalli and Malgoa. It is very popular in Deccan.

14: Chandrakaran: it is delicacy from Kerala. Sweet and sour. Quite costly.

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Craze for Alphonso

India is home to a number of mango varieties. Come summers and markets are flooded with the fruit. It is consumed in many forms. The raw fruit is used to make pickles and chutneys. It is also used to make a refreshing drink to ward off the effects of summer heats. The drink is called Aam Panah. When it ripens, it is used for eating in desserts, it’s pulp is crushed to make mango concentrates, it thick juice called Aam Ras is eaten with indian food. Even its stones are dried and inside material is used in many medicines. The mango tree is considered so auspicious that it’s leaves are used in holy ceremonies by Hindus.

The fruit comes in many varieties in size and shape and skin color. I remember in my days of childhood, we had two mango trees in our land. Both were so diverse with one being a giant spread in large area but it’s fruits were very small. When the ripening season began, the fruits will begin to fall to the ground and soon the whole ground beneath shall be littered with fruits. The collected fruits were washed and put into cool water for quenching their latent heat and then sucked as such. Many birds like crows and parrots gorged on the fruit in the boughs. The other tree was small in size but fruits were bigger.

The weakness for the fruit is universal. It is very rich in minerals, sugars and vitamins. It is loved by people world over. History tells how the arrangements were made to send the fruit from India to England for the royalty.

Out of so many varieties available in India, Alphonso which is grown in Ratnagiri district of Maharastra, parts of Gujarat and Karnataka is considered to be the king. It is called Hapus in Maharastra. Most of it is exported. Rich people in Mumbai make the bookings to get the fruit in priority. There has been a craze among the people for the fruit.
Times of India article writes , “Mangoes feature in perhaps the earliest printed reference to the name of the islands on which the city was built. This was in the Portuguese naturalist Garcia de Orta’s Colloquies on the Simples and Drugs of India, a fascinating book written in the form of dialogues between Orta and a friend (and one of the first printed in India, in Goa in 1563). At one point the conversation is interrupted by a servant boy who tells Orta his tenant in Bombaim, the island whose lease Orta was given as a sinecure, has just sailed in with a basket of mangoes to give the governor of Goa. Orta happily uses this as a chance to expound on the wonders of mangoes and when his servant says he will send them to the governor, he hastily interjects: “Give them here. They ought to be cut with a sharp knife that the slice may not be injured and I want to taste them first…” Mumbaikars would sympathise. There is no better gift than mangoes in season, yet it is just natural for givers to feel a pang at the pleasures given up. The variety Orta received from Bombay is not known and perhaps it is unlikely they were Alphonsos, the only kind many Mumbaikars bother with today. These were probably developed in Goa, where the Portuguese had introduced the grafting techniques needed for good mangoes, but it is unknown if this had happened in Garcia de Orta’s time.

They were well known by the time of the Rising of 1857. The Times of India, looking back at it 17 years later, in a long piece printed on November 13, 1874, wondered how Nana Saheb, the Peshwa prince, had became one of the leaders: “Up to 1857 there was no Prince better known in these parts… he used to be the boon companion of British officers, to who he gave the finest cherry brandy, and Alphonso mangoes brought up by special dak from Bombay.

A more nuanced view of that statement from 1937 would confirm they are the best for export since they have thick skin and withstand transportation better than fabled local varieties such as Tamil Nadu’s Imam Pasands or Goa’s Mankhurados, both wonderful, but poor travellers. The well-established systems for growing, trading and transporting them from the Konkan have also helped make Alphonsos the best mangoes that are relatively easy to get across India and abroad.

Such subtleties though are lost in Mumbai. For many consumers here, Alphonsos are all that matter, with other locally available varieties such as Pairis and Badamis being dismissed as good for juice only. Due to this reason, many producers use chemicals especially calcium carbide to artificially ripen the fruit early and get very high returns. The chemical is known to be carcinogenic.
Thus, people are buying fruits which are potentially dangerous and paying higher price also. The naturally ripened fruit has aroma and taste which is lost in the artificial ripening process. The taste becomes bland.
In our childhood days there were no artificial methods available for ripening the fruit and also no faster transportation means for getting the fruits from far distances. So whatever was available was in the natural form.

Ganapatipule & Ratnagiri

Ratnagiri as everyone who loves mangoes knows is famous for fabled Alfonso mangoes.It is the coastal district of Maharashtra in India. At the time of our recent visit in January, the trees were in full bloom and the fruits will be ready by March end and April. The tree though does not give any impression that it yields such delicious fruits, it seems very modest.There are hundreds of varieties of the mango on India. This mango is not the original inhabitant of India. It was brought here by Goa’s Portuguese governor .

The Alphonso Mango is named after Afonso de Albuquerque. This was an exquisite and expensive variety of mango, that he used to bring on his journeys to Goa. The locals took to calling it Aphoos in Konkani and in Maharashtra the pronunciation got further transformed to Hapoos. This variety then was taken to the Konkan region of Maharashtra and other parts of India.

Ratnagiri has beautiful sea coast dotted with rich coconut trees, mangoes and cashew nut. Fishing is the main occupation of people here. When you enter the city from jetty side, the streets reek of fish smell. The fish is spread over large area for drying. You can see the big storage houses for the fish with special trucks standing outside them for taking the fish to ports for export.

In Ratnagiri, we went to see the Ratangarh fort which is built atop a hill and very tortuous road leads up to the entrance of the fort. There is temple inside the fort. It is called Bhagwati temple. Outside the temple gate is a bust of the great sea commander Kanoji Angre who ruled the Indian ocean and the British were so frustrated by him that they labeled him a pirate. The people in the coastal Maharashtra think otherwise and he is held in great esteem. From the ramparts of the fort, one could see the blue Arabian sea sprawled over a vast area and there is a jetty in which small ships were being loaded with cement. This is the same temple where the exiles Burmese king Thibaw Minh used to come and pray with his family.

From there, we went to visit the Thebaw palace where the exiled king was confined by the British along with his wife and daughters. My interest to see the place had arisen after reading the “Glass Palace” novel written by Amitava Ghosh. The story of the king occupies many chapters in this book. That how the British had their eyes on the vast teak forests and crude oil in the Burma and when they failed to convince the king into agreeing for the exploitation, on some pretext or the other defeated the king and arrested him and his family. That how they were shipped to Madras and then finally to Ratnagiri, thousands of miles away from their country.

The palace is now a museum containing art pieces from around the Ratnagiri and other districts of Maharashtra. There is only one room in the first floor building where king’s effects like his bed, a few photographs, and few other objects are kept. The area around the building is now completely filled with houses. In the novel, the time period  is is way back in the past, the area around was vacant and the king used to sit in the first floor verandah and watch the Arabian sea with binoculars. The people of the area respected the gentle king very much and depended on him for the information about the arrival of fishing boats into the jetty. He was also the first to announce the arrival of monsoons in the area with the clouds coming from the sea. I felt that people does not give this place much thought. May be it is not on their visit schedule. In fact, there is not much to see in the city. Surroundings are most beautiful.

Ganapatipule is famous for beach and Ganesh temple. From Ratnagiri the place is about 25 kilometers from Ratnagiri and most of the time the road runs along side the sea coast and there are troughs and peaks all along the way. From my experience, it seems to be an odd combination because two mutually diverse activities are juxtaposed. I saw the liquor shop just outside the temple. Most people from cities like Bombay and Pune come here for enjoyment and to unwind. Temple visit is a bonus. The beach is very beautiful although sand is deceptive because it slips from under your feet. The MTDC cottages are just adjacent and rooms are good. Food though is just average. There is nothing else to see. It is a beautiful sight at the sunset when the sun becomes a progressively reddish colored disk and slowly and slowly it is going down and down to sink in the Arabian sea.

Here are some pictures of breathtaking beauty of the place.